Sunday, February 10, 2013

Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Zeffirelli '90

Before Claudius comes shouting in, Gertrude has a moment alone to herself, looking at the effigy of her late husband. She quickly hides it from the newer, more murderous model, and by this we know she's chosen a side. After this sequence, Zeffirelli restores the last few lines from Act IV to give Hamlet and Gertrude a proper farewell, "fixing" the anomaly of Hamlet knowing about his exile before he's actually told to go by the King. That's fine, give or take an inappropriate kiss, and it makes it even more clear the Queen is her son's accomplice. In the play as written, she has no contact with him after he is caught and sent away, letting ambiguity reign regarding her true feelings. In this restructuring of the play, she gives him hopeful smiles as he reassures her that he will keep a close eye on Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.

Claudius, for his part, suffers some cuts in the breakneck pace Zeffirelli has adopted. In Scene 1, his "it had been so with us had we been there" serves as a punchline, cutting from blood stains on the floor to his office, where he arrives in a hurry to give the order to apprehend Hamlet. We might wonder why he wasn't attended in the first part of the scene to avoid the location change, but it does create a more urgent rhythm as Elsinore wakes up and attempts to find the Prince and his victim. In fact, Scene 2 is reduced to a single shot of R&G and some guards with torches shouting out Hamlet's name.
Scene 3, as is usual, is more fully rendered, though Claudius still suffers an interruption when his political speech to his courtiers is shortened by R&G's arrival. By cutting the line of dialog about Hamlet being kept outside, the director achieves two things. First, he makes the action run faster by removing a planned delay. Second, by having Rosencrantz shake his head when asked "Where is he?" and giving Hamlet an entrance from the other side of the room, he stages it so the Prince is there willingly and was never caught. He whistles rudely, jumps on the table, kicks at some candles, mockingly wears Polonius' hat... This is a brazen attack on Claudius' authority and Hamlet brings the fight to him. It's a war of words, with both men making veiled but plain threats, but it's presumably all Hamlet can afford while surrounded by Claudius' men. Still, the danger to the King seems more palpable because Hamlet WAS never caught. He got all the way to Claudius' inner sanctum too.

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